Tuesday, September 25, 2018

LIF6 Gene Could Be Causing Low Rates of Cancer in Elephants

        Hundreds of thousands of Americans die yearly due to cancers. A disease that appears in such large numbers in the human species is rare to be found in the elephant species. The article Elephants Revived a "Zombie" Gene that May Fend Off Cancer talks about how these low rates of cancer found in elephants may be due to a "zombie gene". It is a defunct duplicate of the LIF gene that was brought about in evolution. When there is damage to any DNA in an elephant, the elephants' cells will increase the activity of the zombie gene, LIF6, destroying the cell completely. Researches declare that this destroys any genetic defects that are caused by cancer. The LIF gene has numerous functions in mammals. In elephants, the LIF gene is duplicated several times as pseudogenes. These genes do not have the correct sequence to produce functioning transcripts. Researchers question whether these duplications may have an affect on the elephants' cell response to any DNA damage, which is completely destroying it. 
        The team of researches found that the LIF6 gene, one of the duplicated pseudogenes, had duplicated in a way that it produces a transcript. That specific gene product is controlled by TP53 which is a tumor suppressor.  The TP53 protein regulates cell division and keeps the cell from dividing and growing at too quick of a rate or in an uncontrolled way. The over expression of LIF6 in the cells of elephants cause the cells to undergo apoptosis, causing the death of the cell. Researchers then had the idea to introduce the gene into the ovary of a Chinese hamster. When they did, the results showed that the gene had the same response to any DNA damage, complete destruction. There is still more work to be done to confirm the relationship between the LIF6 gene and low rates of cancer. This is definitely an interesting genetic discovery and could lead to many interesting findings in future research.

Gut bacteria found that produces electricity

Bacteria that produces electricity has already been discovered before in extreme environments such as deep below ground in mines and at the bottom of lakes. Recently however, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley discovered that various different bacteria that are part of the human gut microbiome also produce electricity. Unlike the bacteria found in the bottom of mineshafts and lakes however, the bacteria found in the stomach produces electricity using a different technique which uses metals such as iron or magnesium to transfer the electrons produced during metabolism. This process requires a complex reaction that uses the extracellular electron transfer chain which carries the electrons as currents through the cell wall. This discovery is extremely important because of how useful it could be in generating electricity using sustainable energy. Scientists are using this discovery to research ways to use waste treatment plants to generate energy which could eliminate power plants and other energy harvesting techniques that are harmful to the environment.

Is It Possible That CRISPR Could be the Cure to Cancer?

Is It Possible That CRISPR Could be the Cure to Cancer? 

Each and every individual is built with a certain code of DNA that is unique. This code is what created who you are today. Over time, in simplest terms, things can change including DNA. As we grow older, we are constantly exposed to several environmental and biological factors that surround our everyday life. These certain factors, that may seem ever so small, can alter the genetic code and cause many diseases, even cancer. 

Technology is forever evolving and creating ground-breaking discoveries. A technological advancement called, CRISPR may be the cure to cancer. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. This specific form of technology corrects the "mistake" that occurred in the genetic sequence. The hope is that one day doctors will be able to use this form of technology in order to "fix" the genetic code to possibly cure cancer, along with many other genetic diseases. 

CRISPR is not the only genetic editing tool out there. It's said that CRISPR technology is more precise than others, therefore it is used more often in order to cut out a specific mutation that appeared in the genetic code. Using CRISPR technology on a embryonic cell is more successful because it will form into a cell that will replicate without any diseases. When it comes to sickle cell anemia, the technology is not advanced enough to individually edit the genetic code of each cell. With cancer,  the growth of a tumor allows the growth of the mutation to travel. Again, the technology for editing each cell is not advanced just yet. The goal is to eventually replace the genetic code with the correct one so the cell is able to replicate normally without any mutations. 

Not only could CRISPR edit DNA, but it can also become a way to change  cancer therapy. They will use an individual's T-cells, edit them and put them back into the cells in order to help fight against many different forms of cancer. CRISPR technology is also helping scientists detect certain genes inside cancer cells. By determining which genes are most important in certain cancers, there will be better treatment methods that can target specific cancers. Over the course of the next few years, there is hope that we may not have the cure for cancer, but  there will be many treatments to fight against several different types of cancers. 

Elephant Tusk DNA Helps Track Ivory Poachers

In this New York Times article, researchers are close to finding a secure way to catch elephant poachers. Poachers around the world are killing elephants, about 40,000 a year, with only about 400,000 elephants left in the world. Because of the wide area in which poachers act, and the small amount of tusks taken at a time, poachers are quite hard to catch. Samuel Wasser, director of the Center of Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. Dr. Wasser and his colleagues are hopeful that they have created a new approach to catching these illegal traffickers. Using the genetic map of African elephants that Dr. Wasser has created, he can connect the "confiscated tusks to determine where the animal was living when it was killed." This will then give law enforcement an idea of which areas are most vulnerable to poaching. 

The area in Africa that has been most affected by poaching is Gabon, a country in West Africa, where about 60 percent of its elephant population has been lost, according to US Department of Homeland Security special agent, John Brown. He believes that the new way to track poachers will channel their efforts to zero in on the root of the problem from the source, to more directly "take down" the criminals responsible for the poaching. Due to the cost to analyze each tusk individually, investigators will strategize which tusks to analyze: those tusks that are separated in shipment to see if any connect to the same elephant or same family. Because of the large number of containers shipped to ports worldwide, searching each shipment for poached ivory is unrealistic. Other measures, such as consumers reducing the amount of ivory products purchased, need to be taken. Dr. Wasser knows that "addressing the demand...takes more time than conservationists have to protect elephants." 
Ivory poaching to me seems to be a significant issue that has never truly had a solution to slow the amount of traffickers. I do not think people realized how large the numbers of elephants being hunted was until there was a very small amount left, such as right now. Now government officials and investigators are in time-crunch mode because the number of elephants is dwindling so quickly. Dr. Wasser has a great idea, with sound biological background, but if measures are not taken to stop the amount of poaching in other ways than now, finding out where the elephants were from to track the poachers will very soon not matter. 


Monday, September 24, 2018

Giving Malaria a Deadline

In the New York Times article, "Giving Malaria a Deadline," Nicholas Wade explains the new malaria fighting technique scientists have come up with. Malaria has been a growing problem in Africa, and people have been trying to help those affected for decades. In just 2016, malaria caused 445,000 deaths in Africa alone. Scientists have been looking for a way to alter mosquitoes genetics for a while now, and think they are closer than ever. By altering the mosquitoes' sexual development and making the female mosquitoes infertile, Andrea Crisanti found that the laboratory mosquitoes were extinct within about 11 generations. The technique involves altering a specific gene so that it affects all of its offspring, rather than only half. The location of this placement is known as doublesex, and it does not vary in each mosquito. The gene drive makes the females unable to bite and reproduce, therefore ending the transmittance of malaria by them. The male mosquitoes will therefore only be able to spread the disease for as long as they are alive, and then after a few generations the mosquitoes will die out.
This idea seems like it would work to fight against malaria, and would most likely help those suffering in Africa, however, wiping out a majority of a species doesn't seem like a great idea to me. I think the scientists should consider all the risks before letting this out into the wild, and make sure that they have a plan for whatever can go wrong. It was mentioned in the article that the main concern they have right now is that the gene drive will somehow be transferred to other species, such as bees or other insects that help their environment in substantial ways. The scientists are not positive whether or not it will be able to be passed through different species, so I think that is something that needs to be studied closely before they release the gene drive. Other than that, I think this technique could help people out a whole lot, and may actually lead to the eradication of malaria. Maybe this technique will lead to a vaccine or medication for humans and will be able to help people everywhere, without destroying every species of mosquito.


Lab Test May Identify Dangerous Gene Mutations

In New York Scientists have discovered a way to help determine if a specific genetic abnormality is cause for making people sick. These scientists used genetic engineering to create thousands of variations of genes that are linked to breast cancer. They tested each variation to see if it would show up in the subject as the disease. The genes were compared to the already known BRCA 1 gene. So, the focus is to identify variants in the BRCA1 gene's DNA code that prevent it from working. These mutations are thought to most likely increase the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. 

Researchers created 4,000 variants in the key sections of the BRCA 1 gene. When studying the results only 169 of the variants generated had shown up in the database as dangerous. The actual test only predicted 162 of these. To perform this study they applied CRISPR genome editing. This is a technology that allows researchers and scientists to alter human genes. Basically, it allows the researchers to make changes or edits to the genes being studied.

Overall, this study of gene editing and discovery of mutation is still in the beginning stages. They have found the relationship between the BRCA 1 gene which is tremendous, but they wish to go forward and expand further. I think if they can find connections between these genetic mutations in DNA and different diseases/ conditions, it would change how doctors diagnose and the timeline in which patients get their diagnosis. This allows hope for not only people who are predisposed to cancer, but it may be able to help with those who have genes linked to other diseases as well.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

CRISPR Gene Editing effective in treating muscular dystrophy in dogs

  CRISPR gene editing is a very new method and has limitless potential in the medical field to treat diseases related to genetics. This technique uses a man-made molecule (CRISPR) with complementary base pairs to a DNA sequence of interest. This molecule locates the target DNA sequence and can either delete or edit the DNA sequence. The implications of this method are endless, and scientists want to begin using it to treat genetically based diseases such as sickle cell anemia (which is caused by a single base mutation) and muscular dystrophy.

     Muscular dystrophy is caused by a mutation in the gene dystrophin, which is responsible for normal muscle function. In individuals with muscular dystrophy, over time their muscles begin to rapidly degrade and usually end up confined in a wheelchair, because of loss of leg muscle. These individuals also have shorter life spans because they eventually end up on a respirator because even the muscles of the lungs and diaphragm fail. The symptoms first start to appear by childhood and the individual may end up in a wheelchair as early as their teen years.

     Because this disease is caused by genetic mutation, scientists have thought about using CRISPR gene editing techniques to possibly treat this disease. Previous studies have successfully treated the disease in rodents, but this article discusses a very recent finding in which they treated dogs with CRISPR gene editing for their muscular dystrophy. This was the first time they have successfully used CRISPR gene editing on a larger mammal species. They used the gene editing method to splice out a mutated part of the gene and analyzed the lasting effects on the dog's health. They tried injecting CRISPR directly into the muscle and also into the bloodstream. They found that after direct injection in the muscles, the dogs began synthesizing normal healthy dystrophin protein in the range of 3-90% of the normal levels for those specific muscles.

     Although this is the very early stages of this research, only a few dogs actually received treatment in this study, it shows very promising results. This could be very beneficial because once the symptoms start in humans, we could apply this sort of treatment before the symptoms become much worse and ultimately confine the person's life and stop their heart and lungs from functioning. Another important note to focus on is that the treatment only saw increased dystrophin levels in the muscles that were directly treated with CRISPR. Another method would have to be investigated to discover a more efficient way to modify the genes in the more centralized organs such as the lungs and heart. It is also important to investigate the lifelong health effects that this treatment may have on dogs and other model organisms to determine if the treatment is safe for human use. I look forward to reading more about the progress of this research because it is definitely heading in the right direction and I hope it proves safe for human use because it could truly be a life-changing treatment and forever change the way we view medical treatments.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Iceland "Eradicates" Down Syndrome


               Iceland has become the first country to basically eradicate down syndrome from its population. It sounds nice, like a step towards a healthier population, but beneath the surface there is a darker aspect. We talked about this issue a bit in class, but I wanted to share this article I read recently. While the abortion rates of down syndrome babies are high in much of Europe, Iceland alone has the distinction of a 100% abortion rate. Only two of these children are born each year on average, the result of a false negative on the genetic testing.  It is important to remember that because this condition is caused by a random mutation, fetuses will continue to have it regardless of how many, or how few, are born. The high abortion rate may be due to pressure felt during genetic counseling, or the fact that although abortion is illegal after 16 weeks, an exception is made for “deformed” fetuses, which includes down syndrome.

                It seems strange to me that Europe, with its generous healthcare, would have higher rates of abortion in these cases. When I try to put myself in the shoes of a woman who found out her fetus has this condition, my concern is over not being able to provide for its healthcare needs. European women don’t have this concern. I feel very conflicted this. Some have proposed making it illegal to abort a down syndrome fetus to counter this trend, but what about a woman who choses an abortion for other reasons, but would be prevented because her fetus has down syndrome? Perhaps they could follow the example of China when people were aborting girls due to the one child policy; just don’t allow that one test to be done.  Also, it might be helpful if societies had more support in place to care for these individuals. When giving birth results in either having a child you might not be able to care for properly or sending it away to a state institution where it can get medical care, but lives a life of suffering, I see why some might look for a way out. Maybe if the situation was made less hopeless, more women would step up to the challenge.  

A powerful video of a speech by activist Frank Stephens.